What I’m watching today: the Burn Notice pilot

The pilot episode of Burn Notice is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller that introduces us to Michael Westen, a spy who is “burned” by his own government. It’s 90 minutes that fly by. Matt Nix wrote the pilot while Jace Alexander directed it, and it has so much rewatchability. 

The premise of Burn Notice

After a deal goes wrong in Nigeria, Michael is put on an airplane and is stranded in Miami with no money, resources, or way to contact his former spooky employers. He must use his skills as a spy to survive and find out who burned him. It’s the character’s driving mission, and the mantra in the form of a v.o. is even part of the show’s main titles, so the viewers’ expectations are set early on.

Big acting talent

The pilot episode is well-written and well-acted. Jeffrey Donovan is perfectly cast as Michael Westen. He brings a lot of charm and charisma to the role and is believable as a spy trying to figure out exactly why he was burned. (The USA Network, in their “Characters Wanted” heyday, was excellent at casting leads for their blue sky shows.)

Bruce Campbell is also great as Sam Axe, Michael’s best friend in Miami and someone he ran ops with. Campbell brings a lot of humor to the role and has excellent chemistry with Donovan. There’s also some wonderful tension between Campbell and Sharon Gless, who plays Michael’s mom, Madeline. (And yes, it is that Sharon Gless of Cagney and Lacey fame! She, like Bruce Campbell, is a legend.)

But does the pilot episode work?

The pilot episode of Burn Notice does a good job of introducing the characters and setting up the show’s premise. We learn about Michael’s past as a spy and see how he is trying to adjust to his new life in Miami. He’s not thrilled about being deposited there. He’s not a fish out of water because he’s got deep family roots in the Florida city. The pilot introduces us to some of the other characters who will be important to the show, including those played by Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless mentioned above, but also to Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), Michael’s ex-girlfriend and fellow spy.

Burn Notice’s pilot is exciting and suspenseful. There are explosions! What more could you want? The action sequences are well-choreographed and exciting to watch. The underlying tension of the episode – between Michael’s desire to get back on the job, balanced against having to suddenly deal with his mom in Miami, and his relationship issues with Fiona, helps to make the show just so pleasing to watch. It is well-written, well-acted, and exciting. If you are a fan of spy thrillers, Burn Notice scratches that itch, but it’s also got that special quality that will appeal to non-spy fans.

Again, this is something that USA excelled at with their blue sky shows. Sure, Michael Westen is dealing with some heavy issues – he’s lost his job and the protection of the US government. He’s vulnerable. But there’s a breezy tone because of the Miami location. 

Burn Notice is now streaming

Burn Notice is no longer on the air with new episodes, but you can catch it in reruns on ION. There were seven seasons of the show, along with a TV movie. (The TV movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe focuses on Bruce Campbell’s character, Sam Axe.  It’s also available to watch via streaming. 

Your thoughts on Burn Notice

Have you checked out the Burn Notice pilot, or any of the other episodes yet? What did you think? Are you a fan of USA’s blue sky era? Join the conversation by leaving a comment here or reaching out to us on X @MoviesWeTexted. 

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